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Photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Paullusmagnus / Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0), Alexander Lesnitsky / Pixabay , and Wikipedia.

Probably the best kept secret about Wikipedia is that its “truths” largely protect the establishment — and that is baked into the formula

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Part 1 of a Series 

Dear Reader: For many years, the Russ Baker page on Wikipedia has been under a clever and nuanced attack by parties unknown, operating as “editors.” The resulting text subtly questions my work, character, and judgment. The net effect is to give the casual reader cause to minimize or even dismiss my revelations — and me. The consequences of this are almost impossible to overstate, as they impact so many aspects of my life. 

As with many things, I have always meant to get to the bottom of this, but just didn’t get around to it — nor have I been sure about what I could or should do about it. 

What I found was, for me, hair-raising at times.

I now think it’s worth sharing this with others, as my own experience in the maw of the world’s dominant opinion shaper seems anything but unique.  

What follows is a series of articles seeking to understand the phenomenon, and how it affects us all. 

***

If you’re like me, and pretty much the rest of humanity, when you want to know something, you Google it. Invariably, at or near the top of the results, is a Wikipedia finding with your answer. 

That is an astounding amount of power and influence for Wikipedia. 

Wikipedia claims to be the place for us to understand… everything, quickly and simply. 

Apparently we trust Wikipedia… why? 

For one thing, Wikipedia is a nonprofit

And it says that: 

Wikipedia is a place to learn, free from bias or agenda… Show the world that access to independent and unbiased information matters to you.” — The Wikimedia Foundation

How does Wikipedia provide this “independent and unbiased” information?

Wikimedia, the foundation that hosts Wikipedia, allows anonymous individuals whose identity it does not know — and whose expertise or agenda it has not vetted — to create its content. 

Some of these anonymous editors are relentless about creating negative perceptions of certain individuals and entities — and they are experts at it, rendering their subjects powerless to correct false or slanted information. 

This is a serious issue that needs to be addressed and widely discussed. But is it? Not that I can see. I searched Google to see how much this has come out in major media.  

I found a 2021 article in The Washington Post, written by Samuel Baltz, “a PhD candidate in political science and scientific computing and an MS student in applied mathematics at the University of Michigan.” He asserted: 

Wikipedia is one of the few socially driven websites where, even though anyone can contribute information about breaking news, misinformation is largely suppressed. And Wikipedia’s coverage of current events often directs attention to its pages about ideas in political science, giving readers context for the news…

Wikipedia has developed an impressive record of political and ideological neutrality.

He then goes on to state that it “has serious biases in its coverage.” But what strikes me is that those biases are in the interests of the establishment media like The Washington Post. And, like the fox in the hen house, those media serve as the actual arbiters for whether information on Wikipedia should be trusted. Baltz writes:

From the gender gap in its biographies of scientists to its disproportionate focus on politicians from wealthy countries, Wikipedia’s coverage of people is particularly skewed. And these biases are rampant on the pages that people visit to understand political events.

But because anyone can become a Wikipedia editor, these biases can be corrected.

In other words, the problem with Wikipedia is that it is not politically correct enough, from a kind of establishment liberal perspective. This means women, minorities, and non-Americans are underrepresented — which, as we all know, is hardly a problem limited to Wikipedia alone. The Washington Post has its own problems around this issue

The net effect of that criticism, coupled with Baltz’s claim that these issues will be corrected by the public (he, himself spent a year adding “more accurate information”), serves to further push the idea that Wikipedia is free from any real, meaningful bias beyond the low level background-radiation bias that permeates our world. 

A Harvard Business School article comparing Wikipedia with Encyclopedia Britannica underlines this subjectivity:

Complicating matters, however, many of the topics that we look up in the Britannica — any encyclopedia — aren’t factually cut-and-dried. “Most of the topics of content we are dealing with on a daily basis do not have a verifiable answer,” says [Feng] Zhu. “They can be quite subjective or even controversial.”

A study co-authored by this same professor concludes that the old Encyclopedia Brittanica was more objective because it relied on “experts” rather than a kind of crowd consensus. And it notes that Wikipedia overall had more of a leftist bias, which is interesting, considering the complaint in the Washington Post article of a white, American bias. 

But none of these critiques really get at what I’m talking about: how professional or amateur “hit men” can infiltrate Wikipedia and go after individuals and ruin them in the public eye. 

Some years ago, when I began researching this, I found very little online about this phenomenon, despite the fact that I knew a fair number of individuals who had been victims of the practice. Now that I look again, I still see no sign that this problem is being addressed or even vestigially discussed.

What this means is, nobody is minding the store to make sure that we don’t end up in some type of artificial informational construct that edits the facts about powerful actors and institutions to conform to a subjective agenda instead of reality. 

I wrote to the author of the Washington Post opinion piece I cite above. He was kind enough to reply. Among the things he said — and he wanted to make clear these are his personal views not necessarily those of his employer:

I personally think it’s probably true that “someone who is critical of the NYT would have trouble documenting a positive WP profile,” because Wikipedia is constructed such that sources which are broadly understood to be reliable by most people will also be easier to use as a reference in a Wikipedia article. However, I don’t think there has been a lot of research on that specific question, so I can’t say whether or not there is evidence supporting that claim.

We absolutely need that research to be done. But some facts can be inferred from the stated rules of the Wikipedia editing process and the degree of constant vigilance one would need to counter a covert actor determined to distort the facts. 

The fact is, anyone who is out there “making trouble” for the system doesn’t stand a chance. Why? Because it would take a relentless, inhuman vigilance to battle those persistent and tidal forces bent on controlling the narrative… And most of us don’t have the time, expertise, or energy to do that. 

Also, because, for someone to make their case, they have to prove that good things have been said about them… by the establishment. 

In other words, if The Washington Post likes you, then you appear in a positive light on Wikipedia. If it doesn’t, then what the public sees on the platform is a person or entity it should apparently not like or trust. 

This is the end of Part 1 of this series. Stay tuned for more on the topic. 


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